The reason I became a life coach is because of the disorienting, disturbing, and demanding idea that my contribution is desperately needed. Somehow, I need to make a positive impact in the world in a way that is an expression of my unique gifts. This, of course, is the purpose of every human being in a healthy society. Given that we do not live in a healthy society, it is even more imperative that some folks are able to mature fully in a way that allows this.
Personal development and activism are often considered separate arenas. Folks like Layla Saad, adrienne maree brown, Chani Nicholas, and Joanna Macy are helping me realize that they must be one pursuit if we are to create lasting, transformative, just, and ecological futures.
Self-help that promotes positive thinking as an escape from racist trauma only helps maintain a world in which white people stay comfortable in their bubble of privilege while people of color continue to suffer. Activism that runs on urgency and growth, operating from the top down, recreates a power structure and work that denies natural limits. As adrienne maree brown says, “we have to actually do everything differently”.
Something I’m doing differently these days is being white. I mean I’ve always been white. But like most white Americans, I didn’t think about it too much beyond checking the box on applications. Given that this country was set up to benefit and serve white people, we are given default status across the board, hiding that whiteness is a race, too.
White invisibility doesn’t hold for long if you live in Oakland, CA. So I’ve been learning more about white privilege, about the history of whiteness and how it works in the world, and how I might show up as a white person in a way that doesn’t perpetuate systems of privilege and oppression, both in my day-to-day life as well as in my coaching.
One thing is for certain – I do not have it all figured out. This is a steep learning curve, one through which the story of my life, and my identities are being challenged. How delicious! albeit at times uncomfortable. This is truly how we grow as people.
If we are able to fully step into conversations – with people, issues, the Earth, our ideas and sense of selves are always being challenged. When we participate in a conversation that shakes us, or rather, when we allow the conversational nature of reality to shake us, troubling times of introspection ensue, after which we emerge as a new version of ourselves that is better able to meet the world. We have to say yes to this if we want to grow and we have to say yes to this if we want to build an equitable future for all creatures.
Because of the growth and softening that results, and because it is the only way to fully honor the human experience, I advocate showing up for our “negative” emotions. Some of the emotions that have come up for me as I’ve dived into this are – grief, guilt, self-loathing, fear and sadness.
The one that has hit me the hardest is sadness and remorse that I am only now truly waking up to this. That is the power of white privilege – we can go on our merry ways, even be “good” people. It is deeply troubling to wake up one day, realizing that simply existing as a white person causes oppression, much like simply living in the industrial world causes environmental destruction.
I imagine BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or people of color) reading this can only extend their compassion to me so far – the grief of my wasted time is but a blink in the expanse of centuries of grief from lost homes, separated families, police brutality, institutional discrimination, and bigotry. And that realization only deepens the sadness and remorse I experience – emotions that are long overdue for us whites benefitting from a system that causes great harm. For me, that sadness is morphing into a deep longing to participate in antiracism and liberation.
If we want to create a world without oppression and environmental destruction we have to confront these crises both out in the world and within our consciousness and sense of self. Our personal growth cannot be divorced from the growth of our movements. If you are wondering how I’m going to integrate that philosophy into my coaching, you are asking the same question that is directing my life right now.
Here’s what I’ve been doing to learn more about whiteness. This is not a step-by-step guide or comprehensive list (obviously). I am very much still learning and am not an expert on antiracism. I'm just sharing where I'm at that it might be a launching point for you too.
This podcast series unpacks the history of whiteness, how and why it was created, and the ways it has been deployed to establish and perpetuate systems of power. It is moving, accessible, and imperative. If you have no idea what I'm talking about in this post, listen to this series!
You & White Supremacy
Writer, speaker & mystic Laylaa Saad has an incredible Instagram community where white people can learn and reflect on the ways racist systems benefit them and how they are complicit. Her You & White Supremacy challenge, going on right now, is a great way to dive in and has fueled powerful introspection for me.
Follow lots of people of color on social media. What are the approaches of organizations led by POC? What is important to them and what challenges do they describe? How do different individuals talk about racism and whiteness? Listen and learn from these folks. Truly listen.
Instead of reading their posts with a critical eye, approach them with the recognition that you stand to learn a lot. Operate from the position that what they say is true. DO NOT JUMP IN. Do not share your opinion or experiences unless explicitly asked. If you feel defensive, just notice that and use it as an invitation for introspection rather than sharing.
An emotion I've felt strongly in response to following POC on social media is hope. The creativity, resilience, and heart that POC bring to this world despite incredible challenge is inspiring and beautiful.
Showing Up for Racial Justice is an outstanding group of white folks that offers fundraising, outreach, and support to POC-lead organizations and projects. They have a study group to learn about racial injustice, and many platforms to participate. SURJ is a national organization with many local chapters.